How to run a hardware or maker focused hackathon / event

We’ve just finished organising a Demo Day for Intel ® Edison a new maker hardware platform which was great fun.

After years of running Arduino workshops, corporate training days and other hardware centric events at Tinker it seems there is renewed interest in this format. The amount of press around the internet of things means new people are interested in supporting the rapid making / hacking of hardware. Sometimes it’s to promote a new platform or hardware, other times it’s to see if new novel investable ideas are created. After a recent conversation with an intern organising his first hardware event for a well known incubator program, I thought I’d share how we do things here as it might benefit others. This was also prompted by Arial Waldman’s excellent post on organising Science Hack Days.

I’m making a number of assumptions moving forward on this post:

  • You have budget for hardware
  • You have budget for technical experts
  • You are running a 2-3 day event
  • There is a commercial drive behind the event (otherwise you wouldn’t have budget for 1. or 2.)
  • Attendance is free (meaning you will get a mix of attendees, not hand-picked ones)

0. What are you doing?

Before you open an excel spreadsheet and plan your event’s budget and timing, you’ve got to ask yourself what success looks like. Is it that you want new ideas, new prototypes and feedback on a hardware platform or simply entertain people by getting them to make things? Depending on the answer, your event will be very different.

If you want new ideas, forget about the hardware as coming up with an idea, developing a business case around it, and pitching doesn’t require any prototyping. Prototyping will have a role when you want to test your product idea with potential users and validate some of your assumptions. It will take you more than 3 days to do this well and this format is best addressed by longer design workshops.

If you want new prototypes or feedback on a platform read on.

1. Introduce everyone

Before you plunge into a 20 minute introduction, before you make teams, before you even say hello, make sure people have tools to introduce themselves. A sticky badge with their first name will do (corporate badges are often too small to read and make everyone feel like a tradeshow attendee). Then make sure you go around the room and get everyone (team & attendees) to say their name and profession. It’s simple, stupid and so very effective at getting people to acknowledge each other and get the team to think about who might need more or less help.

2. Tools don’t make ideas. 

Organisers often think that by putting people in a room with a 3D printer, a laser cutter and some electronics this will generate great ideas. This is rarely the case.

You should always take the time to actually teach people how to use the tools you’re supplying from scratch on the morning of the first day, levelling the playing field as much as possible and getting everyone to learn something new and talk to each other.

Arduino is still my favorite platform because there is so much documentation and example projects shared by the community.

If you’re teaching people about 3D printing & lasercutting, teach them with something like Tinkercad or get a people like Inition or Razorlab  to do some training.

If you’re a new hardware or software platform provider, really make sure that documentation is available for a total beginner. You never know who your attendees will be, so don’t assume they know either anything about electronics or anything about code. Of you have a bunch of experts in the mix, just make sure they are sat next to each other and they will plough on ahead while you do the introductory bits.

3. Have basic materials

Not everyone will want to build a whole end product, so always make sure you have paper, scissors, glues, knives, cutting mats, a soldering iron and all manners of craft materials to get people going quickly. Play-doh, lego and the usual post-its and pens are also useful. I’ve ended up with a suitcase full of this that I take to events that we are running. It might not be used, but you never want to assume what kinds of ideas people will have.

4. Provide technical support

Providing technical help to attendees is really crucial when you’ve provided new tools. We have always designed events with teams of 2-3 attendees max and one technical expert per 2 teams. It’s a high ratio but you wouldn’t believe how important those people are to your event. Just because an attendee is sat at a computer looking serious, doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. The role of your technical expert is to ask “how’s it going” over and over again and know when to let people get on with it after they’ve pointed them in the right direction. There’s also nothing worse than a technical expert who tries to build the thing for the attendee. It’s about building a sense of confidence in attendees. They are new to this, but once the event is over, they should know how to keep going on their own and know what resources to tap into.

5. Provide documentation

Stop printing pieces of paper, just put all your documentation on github. Even if your attendees have never heard of it, they’ll learn how to use it. Github will be key in building up the documentation needed between the workshop leader and the technical experts. Giving them a chance to add to the documentation and experiment before will make them more ready for questions.

6. Encourage team work but don’t push people into it

Just because you are trying to get a good mix of people, doesn’t mean they want to work with each other or will sync up at all. Get people to share their ideas on an ideas wall or online before the event and let teams naturally happen, or not. You won’t get better ideas if you force interactions between attendees. They’ll feel bossed around like kids.

7. Champion & document ideas

After an event, all the ideas that people are working should be documented and listed on github. People should be able to upload a picture of what they were working on, what they tried to build and the code they used. This is a great way of championing all the attendees and their work.

8. Always close with a demo

Another way of championing people is to get them to present what they have done to the rest of the group. You are closing their experience and making sure they work to a deadline. This is really important in making attendees feel like they’ve achieved something during their time. If you don’t do a closing demo, someone could simply bury themselves in a deep dark problem that might take weeks. If there’s a demo, they know they can’t focus on the deep dark problem and should just get on with getting something to work. Always clap (as Russell says) after each presentation and never give them more than 5-10 minutes to present or you’ll be there all night.

With all this, and the basics (feed them well, give them daylight) you should have a great time and accomplish your aims. Enjoy your hackday!

 

Elderly care and the internet of things

Last week I took part in a workshop run by DIOTTO an EU-funded project on the use of connected products in elderly care. Some real issues came up which I thought I’d share. It’s important to note we were mainly looking at the use of connected hardware to enhance the relationship between carers and an elderly person who is still independent and living at home.

1. Defining “seniors”.
Louisa and Marcel pointed out that during most of your work life you are categorised and targeted (by Acorn and others). But once you hit 60, you are a “senior” which is unhelpful. Profiling on the basis of technology uptake (do they have an iPad or not) is also unhelpful. We need to be granular about designing for an ageing population which is diverse and often has disposable income in the early years of retirement.

2. Transitional technologies
What kinds of technologies do we need to design that a person will find useful using at 60 and will help them in their 70s and 80s? Noone wants to be “tracked” while they are independent, but once that first fall happens, smart environments may save your life. Is personal data the price to pay to be let to live an independent life in the later stages of life? This is a hard problem to tackle as it means admitting we may be in need of help. Noone wants to think that way, people will often avoid buying a wheelchair even when they need it, because admitting that you’re at “that stage” is an awful blow to your pride. As designers we need to be sensitive to the fact that people may never have a good relationship with our product.

3. Types of care
The word “carer” is misleading. It treats family, friends and healthcare professionals in the same way. Their impact on the life of an ageing person is very different. Many older people suffer from extreme loneliness and isolation, especially men. On Radio 4 the other day, professional carers were interviewed and shared their distress at visiting a patient for only a few minutes a day. That person looked forward to that conversation all day. These are realities of medical support, but we know that a strong social support makes people more resilient.

4. Getting old
Noone likes to think of themselves as “old”. My 79 year old grandmother who sadly has stage 2 Alzheimer’s disease and thinks her care home is full of “old people” so she doesn’t socialise with them. We’ve been successful at stigmatising the wisest people in our communities to the point even they don’t want to own up to it. The Homeshare scheme is brilliant but can we build opportunities for knowledge exchange like the Amazings while using emerging technologies? What will the 50 year olds of today, with their wearable tech, look like and act like in 20 years? Will they be naturally more digitally social? Will their use of technology make up for day to day face to face interactions? Will they be better at staying connected with their families around the world?

These are all questions we should be answering to as designers. Technology has a role to play but perhaps it’s a more subtle one than technologists realise. A good old user-centered approach should dictate what gets designed. As a result we may find that sensors and connected products are best placed as touch points of new services as opposed to the soul focus of design.

#yearnotes

It’s been a hell of a year, peppered with great work with many clients as our consulting activities ramped up.

This year we’ve done many things:

– Helped finalise the outreach activities of Eyehub, a government funded internet of things demonstrator project

– Wrote a report (pdf) on what connected products businesses needed in the UK for the Digital Catapult. We then helped them test some of those findings by designing and running the Boost event last October.

– Wrote two research papers for Nominet R&D on various verticals of the internet of things.

– Helped a client of the Arduino group understand the types of maker projects that could influence the homes of the future

– Helped support the research efforts of trends and market researchers like Future Foundation, the Future Laboratory, Advantage research, The Futures Company, Sturm und Drang.

– Helped government departments like the Danish Ministry of Rural Affairs understand what makes the UK a great place for the internet of things

– Took part in design and research workshops run across the country and gave talks around the world.

– Gave a freely accessible webinar on the internet of things for RS Components after we helped them with content for their new design centre.

– Ran a paper wearables workshop at the Victoria and Albert Museum to feed into Connected, a quarterly paper publication we launched at Thingscon.

– Spent the summer with BBC R&D North Lab and Adrian Woolard‘s team looking at how they approach #iot

– Helped support Tech City UK and the Technology Strategy Board’s promotion of a funding call for internet of things startups. We designed and ran a day of engagement for London startups to meet other potential partners and hear about the details of the competition.

– Just spent two weeks with Wintec Research, an applied research centre in Hamilton New Zealand who offer various technical and research capabilities which are very #iot focused. I’m happy to say we will be helping them grow a UK & European presence in the new year. More to come on that.

– Designed and ran a Demo Day to show off Intel® ‘s new maker-friendly platform Edison to a community of developers. If you’d like to meet the workshop attendees, join us for drinks next week in Shoreditch. We’ll have a tab behind the bar :)

– Ran our first Master Class for investors to understand the internet of things. The next one is up on December 16th.

– And finally this week, after 10 years of slow development, the production of the first batch of Good Night Lamp’s has started. There are still a few on sale, so buy now.

So what’s next? Back in May, I decided to give up our office on Scrutton Street. Shoreditch was getting really expensive and I realised that with all the client work we had, I was only really in the office a day a week. I wanted to experiment with working remotely with Ana and for months we both worked from home. It’s time to experiment with being located somewhere again and as of next week I will be starting a six month residency at the Digital Catapult’s Centre.

This is exciting as it will allow me to test out an idea I’ve been mulling over for the past month. What does a centre of expertise on the internet of things look like? Is it a member’s club? Is it a gallery? Is it a school? These are all models I’m interested in experimenting with and the Centre with great people like Marko Balabanovic and Maurizio Pilu is the perfect place to start to have those conversations. I hope you’ll come say hi and if you’d like to have conversations about these models, I’d love to hear from you.

In the meantime I hope you’ll join me over startups, mulled wine and mince pies at the Christmas edition of the London Internet of things meetup on the 16th. It’s a showcase event and I’ve designed a little treat for attendees. If i don’t see you then, happy holidays!

 

November News

It’s super busy here and although I don’t think we’ll end up with #weeknotes I thought I’d share what’s going on.

Research

  • I’m in New Zealand at the moment on my second week of an Internet of Things Fellowship in Hamilton’s Wintec Applied Research Institute. These guys have a lot of sensor-based client projects especially in the farming sector but I’m helping them understand the potential of their facilities in other contexts and who they could collaborate with. I’ve been working with the very talented Gert Hattingh and Mariana Van Der Walt here and bullied them into starting a Twitter feed too.
  • I’m also finishing off a piece of research on smart cities for Nominet R&D who have been asked by Oxford City Council to look at the local and international landscape to help them develop a relevant strategy.

Building communities

  • We’re running a Demo Day for Intel’s new internet of things platform Edison on the 28th, it’s a free event and although it’s already sold out, we’ve put up a waiting list. The day is lead by Adrian McEwen our long-standing collaborator in Liverpool. Our experience with these things is that there’s always some last minute cancellations, so if you’re interested, sign up! We’re also looking for an additional sponsor to help cover food on the day (from our friends at Feast) if you’re interested, drop me a line.
  • We ran the first edition of IOTAngels, a half day introduction to the internet of things for investors last month and our next edition will run on December 16th right before the IOT London Meetup Christmas Showcase.
  • We’re also helping ImagoTechMedia to scout out some local talent in the startup community to showcase at an upcoming Insurance & Internet of Things conference in London in January. Sign up on F6S if you’d like to show your project to the conference attendees or get in touch with Jan if you’d like to speak or sponsor the event!

Collaborative projects

  • The second edition of Connected, a quarterly paper publication on the internet of things is out now on sale worldwide. Many thanks to Tristam Sparks an old friend from my Ivrea days for joining the team in designing this very professional layout.

Product development

  • I’ve decided after 2 years to make a small batch of Good Night Lamps under the corporate umbrella of designswarm. We’re partnering with Eseye, an M2M company we met on the Eyehub project last year. If you’re interested in a limited edition of the lamps using walnut veneer, have a look at our little secret store where we have a few left on our batch of 100 Sets.

Talks

  • I’ll be speaking and participating in a workshop on accessible internet of things products in Antwerp, an event organised by DIOTT.
  • Next year I’ll be coming States-side (that rarely happens) to contribute to the Great Lakes Software Conference in Michigan. If you’re at either of these come say hi and if you’re interested in having me speak at an event, you now need to get in touch with the London Speaker Bureau who are now representing me!

Making & the corporate office

(This was originally written for and published in last month’s in Andrew Sleigh’s beautiful zine Hot Glue)

make_zine

I’ve worked for all sorts of businesses: large, medium and small and they all share a common aspiration: to be more like start-ups. You can’t swing a cat without taking part in a meeting where organisations wonder how to become more agile, fun and disruptive like start-ups appear to be. The maker movement has created a whole new set of aspirations.

To make means to invent, to be engaged in the manufacturing of new ideas and products. It means to act in the world, with your hands and with tools which are cheaper and easier to access than ever before. This is such an important idea even Obama announced a National Day of Making. “Makers” describes the collective notion of people solving problems together but alone too. The ideology of making is very much about learning step by step, using new tools and trying things that have never been tried before. This makes a lot of business sense. By building a maker-friendly environment a business can increase their competitiveness, support employee training and identify talent among the various layers of management. It supports the idea of organisations as meritocratic environments of innovation and not political or bureaucratic ones. More often than not though there is a little bit of cargo culture happening inside already creative businesses who get on the maker bangwagon.

Someone buys 3D printers only to have them sit there being unused. They build “workshops” which are essentially a meeting room turned into a storage unit for the latest gadgets on Kickstarter. They run hackathons where more post-its get used than solder. They have curated showrooms to show other people’s work. In short they don’t end up making at all. Building a maker-friendly environment is a holistic exercise of redesigning your own internal culture. Here are some easy first steps to help you do this.

 

Building a maker space

You have to create a space that is going to be both useful and used often. This may be tricky when you may be running out of meeting rooms, but control the urge to make this anything other than a dedicated space for work that isn’t meetings. This space shouldn’t be “bookable”. It should be open for people to use whenever they like. If they want a meeting, they can go somewhere else. A lot of indirect value is derived by working next to someone building something quietly. Make sure this space isn’t anywhere near people working on laptops as the noise of laser cutters and 3D printers, sawing and generally making is going to be disruptive to them and you don’t want to create a culture that says that the noisy people aren’t working as hard as the others.

Buy tables and chairs on wheels that can be moved around easily. Have power sockets on the floor and avoid carpet (no one likes to vacuum random chips and cables). Make sure you have lots of natural light coming in (don’t set this up in the basement, this isn’t the 90s) and whiteboards everywhere. Add some lockers and shelves so people can leave projects nearby or stored safely out of reach. The visual accumulation of work is how progress is felt on a project and in a space. This is good. You can clean things up when you get to the end of a project.

When you’re not sure about what to put in your maker space, let people bring their own things, you might find out your organisation is full of secret tinkerers. Let your organisation shape the type of making you do, don’t let yourself be influenced by visual lifestyle maker culture. Most of the 3D printers you see in offices never get used.

 

Train & hire well

When you’re making a maker space, the first challenge is to not create a knowledge gap inside your organisation between people who don’t know how to make things and people who have been tinkering on weekends for years. Instead of creating ghettos of geeks, you want to train your entire organisation in using the tools you end up working with. You’d be surprised how many people can’t even work a power drill. If every new staff gets an induction in the space and gets an hour or so with someone who is using the space to make something, you are creating a link between your day to day job and the act of making. You’re allowing people with no technical experience to understand the creative and innovative potential of making rather than rule it out as “a waste of time”. You are also creating champions for the space whose work can be seen as it grows and changes. Keep the space really organised, and if you can afford it, have a technician take care of the space and ordering things as ideas emerge so you can keep the tools in the space relevant and interesting.

 

Champion the work

This could be out of a text book on social media, but championing the work you do inside the maker space has to start with very small everyday actions. A good way to start is having demo times once a week where the business comes together in that space and gets an update on what is being built. People can ask questions of the maker and propose projects they might want to work on to find collaborators. This meeting has to happen in the space as it gives it credit and says that this is part of doing business. Building a visual history of the work done is important. Starting an Instagram account for the space which people can post to and use the same tag is a great way to spread the word across staff and the outside world. Printing out pictures of new tools and posting them in the kitchen means people can share the progress and improvements at their own pace. Not everyone in your organisation is a maker but they should know what’s going on too. Avoid long newsletters, no one reads them now. If the work done isn’t mission critical, create a blog for the space which has a different identity to the rest of the business so employees can create their own voice through it and can gather interest from the wider community and potentially present it at tradeshows and conferences.

 

Making is as much about a process of interacting with space and tools as a way to produce new ideas. Ignore the people aspect of this and you end up with a glorified meeting room. Apply too much pressure on the space being worth the investment and you strangle good ideas before they have the time to blossom. These types of spaces are crucial to organisations who want to foster a renewed sense of identity, creativity and fun in their team, but they are hard work. On the other hand, nothing ventured, nothing gained. You’ll find that if your maker space is successful, new ideas will be brought forward, prototyped well and people will collaborate with each other more, a real maker community.

imago

IoT Insurance Startup Competition

We’re working in collaboration with Imago Techmedia on a startup friendly competition which will run alongside their IoT Big Data: Insurance conference early next year. We’re looking for companies who are building IoT products for the insurance industry:

Are you developing a connected product that is suited to the insurance sector? Then this is your chance to showcase your work on January 29th at the IOT Big Data: Insurance conference in London.

This unique industry conference will feature a selection of fifteen startups during the day who will get a chance to win three cash prizes.

You have until December 15th to apply to be one of the startups who showcases on the day.

What is IOT Big Data: Insurance

IOT Big Data: Insurance is the first conference dedicated to bringing together the insurance sector with the world of the Internet of Things. Connected devices, cars, wearables and homes will change the way the industry engages with its consumer and industrial customers. The data generated by these devices will bring with it, great change, challenges and opportunities. On January 29th, 2015, Imago TechMedia, the conference originators, will bring the best technology leaders and most promising startups together to share their knowledge and vision with the best of the insurance sector in London and beyond.

For startups this is an opportunity to meet insurance professionals in an exclusive context, get their feedback and create business opportunities.

Application Process

You can apply to be one of the fifteen startups selected to attend the showcase and pitch event by answering a few simple questions on our F6S page

If you’re selected to go to the next phase, you’ll have a quick call with designswarm who will ask a few questions about your product/idea.

Once you’ve been selected to attend the showcase and pitch event, you’ll receive careful coaching from designswarm to make sure you’re ready for the day and understand everything involved in attending.

Who can apply?

Startups or SMEs with less than £1 million investment and staff of less than 25 employees
You can be based anywhere in the world as long as you can attend the event on the 29th of January in London
You must be developing an internet-connected hardware + software product that is particularly suited  to the insurance sector

What does the showcase and pitch event entail?

If you’re selected to attend on the 29th of January, you will be showcasing your work all day at the conference and give a short pitch if you are one of the five startups shortlisted. The winners will be announced at the end of the conference around 5pm.

Follow us using #insureiot 


Help save iot.london

So there’s a really boring auction going on that I’m taking part in. iot.london is up for auction. As I’ve been running the meetup for three years and own iotlondon.com and .co.uk I’m hoping to win this one. I love the community that has grown around this topic in what I consider to be the best city in the world to develop new products and ideas around this space. I also think noone should commercially be able to brand it. So I’m hoping I’ll win the auction. There are 2 other bidders and we’re up to £205 but there has to be a period of 24h after the last bidder for the auction to end so this could take a while. If you’d like to help me out donate to a dot sonsino at gmail dot com on Paypal. I’ve had some wonderful donations from around the world and would like to particularily thank Russell Davies, Ben Hammersley and Mike Milinkovich from the Eclipse Foundation.

Update: I won! At £225, I won the auction finally after 5 days. I received a total of £580 in donations from the following people:

Matt Webb, Fintan Ryan, Benjamin Cabé, Gianfranco Chicco, Andrew J Savery, Liam Lynch, Benjamin Tomlinson, Gareth Klose, Lawrence Archard, Rob van Kranenburg, Russell Davies, Adrian Godwin, Ben Hammersley, Dan Lockton, Mark Setrem Anna Bradley, David Weaver, Boris Adryan, Nicholas O’Leary.

To all of them, I am very grateful.

I was happy to cover at least £100 of the cost of the URL so with the remaining £455 I will give away cash prizes at our bi-annual London Internet of Things Showcase which will take place on December 16th this year. I hope this pleases everyone.

The cost and time to make things

So last week I launched sales for a limited edition of the Good Night Lamp. This is both an exercise in pig-headedness and a suicidal financial exercise. What prompted this? Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of this idea. There’s only so much time you can spend trying to turn lights on and off, but in those ten years, I’ve learnt a lot about the conditions that need to take place in order to make things.

So I’m making them with an M2M partner Eseye and Tom Cecil who has been making our prototypes since mid-2012. Noone else.

They are retailing for £279 which is shocking some but the truth is that making small batches of things costs a lot more than people think, especially when there’s wood involved which is why we’ll move on, if those 100 sell, to cheaper materials. Why sell 100? Well mostly to live up to expectations, PR during all those years, and for myself as a designer.

Financially, it’s a ridiculous exercise in a way. The average product on a John lewis shelf costs 25% of retail price to make. Retailers usually take a 50-60% cut to place the product on a shelf. This set of lamps is costing between 86% (for EU customers) & 96% (for UK customers) of the retail price in costs and doesn’t include any assembly time. Here’s a handy and honest breakdown.

gnl_100_profits

It’s pretty silly really, but I think they’ll make people happy and work really well. Yes I’ll be assembling them myself or with friends probably, but hey I started Tinker by selling Arduinos in the front room of a flat in Hackney in 2007. Been there, done that. It might become a collectable item, who knows. I’ve got 36 sets left to sell on that batch so tell your friends and head to the website for more details.

Boosting the internet of things in the UK


View IOT companies (UK & Europe) in a larger map

I’ve been putting a map together of internet of things startups in the UK & Europe since May 2012. It’s not that I don’t care about the rest of the world, but as I’ve written about before, there is a real opportunity for the UK to lead on great ideas and businesses in the consumer sector. Building consumer applications isn’t easy, and the support from the investment community in the UK has been limited as they tend to be more comfortable with B2B or industrial applications. But role of crowdfunding and open hardware have contributed to adding variety to the ideas that investors get exposed to after years of apps apps apps. Last week, when I learnt that Xively was to step down as the sponsor of the Internet of Things London Meetup, offers flooded in to replace them.  This is a sign things are changing for the better if you’re a startup in this area.

After helping Tech City UK promote the Technology Strategy Board IOT Launchpad competition last month, we heard that the the number of SMEs that applied was four times what they had expected. So people are willing to give government funding a chance which also implies that other sources of funding are not yet readily available. Hopefully, that too will change.

For those companies who are pre-funding though, we’re helping the Digital Catapult organise a day in Liverpool on October 3rd giving startups free technical advice from experts around all the topics you’d expect them to worry about: manufacturing, electronics engineering, marketing. No it’s not in London, because among other things, Liverpool has a wonderful community led by Adrian of makers & budding entrepreneurs and London will benefit from what we can learn there. So if you’re up for a day trip and need some help, really you ought to consider it.

I find us fortunate to be involved in shaping events like these as we try to bridge the many gaps for startups in the physical/digital world. Learnings from my own product development , we pour back into designing events people will find value in. There’s a lot going on in the UK and we have to celebrate it and nurture it before people get swallowed up by the West Coast like some have in digital startups. Not quite better together, just better here.

Caring about watches again

applewatch

 

So Apple is making a smart watch (let’s call it what it is, “wearable” is too clunky and best used for non-screen connected products). It’ll do well enough with early adopters whenever they launch it and regardless of battery life but more importantly it’ll test one important assumption: is the ability to pay with a watch going to get people to wear them again? Fitness and sharing your presence have failed to get the market excited because they are short-term interactions. People go on diets for weeks or exercise for a few months. Paying for things is an everyday recurring action. Maybe Watch will be the payment card killer? If they come to the UK, paying for the Underground with a watch would beat card clash but readers are all on the left, so not an obvious gesture. Maybe that’ll pave the way for NFC Apple Rings.  Oh the possibilities.